Game Preview: at Carolina Hurricanes - February 12, 2016 - PensInitiative | Pittsburgh Penguins Blog | Rumors | News

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Friday, February 12, 2016

Game Preview: at Carolina Hurricanes - February 12, 2016



Pittsburgh Penguins (27-19-7; 4th Metro) @ Carolina Hurricanes (24-21-9; 7th Metro)
February 12, 2016 @ 7:00 PM - PNC Arena
TV: Root Sports Pittsburgh


Wednesday night a regulation win would have allowed the Penguins to pull within 2 points of the 2nd place New York Rangers. Tonight, they'll look to avoid a loss that allows the 7th place Carolina Hurricanes to pull within two points of them. That's how tight the playoff race is in the Eastern Conference, and though the Penguins currently find themselves in the final wild card spot it's likely to be a fluid situation for the rest of the year. It's the 5th and final meeting between the two teams this year, and Pittsburgh enters just 1-1-2 against the Canes this year, though they did win the last meeting 5-0

The Pens were shutout by one of the best goalies in the league Wednesday in Henrik Lundqvist, and they'll look to get back on track against one of the worst teams in keeping the puck out of the net. Carolina ranks just 26th in the league with a 0.902 SV% in all situations, and it hasn't mattered whether it's been Cam Ward (0.908 SV%, 2.38 GAA) or Eddie Lack (0.901 SV%, 2.74 GAA) in net. They haven't been particularly adept offensively either, ranking just 23rd in scoring with 2.41 GF/gm, and they're shooting 8.0% in all situation, good for 24th best on the season.

With numbers like the above, Carolina would normally be expected to be on a fast track to a high lottery pick, but despite those numbers, they remain just 4 points back of a wild card spot. It's due to them being one of the best possession teams in the league. Carolina ranks 2nd in the NHL with a score adjusted 54.1 CF%, and they've quietly been improving on that number over the past few seasons. They've also been assembling a talented group of young defensemen too. Justin Faulk is the best among them, and the Metro All-Star leads the entire Carolina team with 34 points. Faulk enters tonight as a game time decision, but coach Bill Peters believes that he'll be available against the Pens. High draft picks like Noah Hanifin (5th overall, 2015) and Ryan Murphy (12th overall; 2011) have managed to find time on the blue line this season, and less highly regarded youngsters like 21-year-old Brett Pesce and 21-year-old Jaccob Slavin have managed to play in a significant number of contests as well. The pipeline isn't dry yet either, as Hayden Fleury, the 7th overall pick in the 2014 draft, is still waiting in the wings in the WHL.

While the Hurricanes have made getting younger and better on defense a priority, selecting 3 lottery defensemen with their past 5 first round picks, they're about to see a changing of the guard at forward. Center Eric Staal, who has been the face of the Hurricane franchise since being selected 2nd overall by the team in 2003, is coming up on unrestricted free agency and doesn't appear likely to re-sign with Carolina. At 31, he's having one of the worst seasons of his career, scoring only 9 goals and 30 points through 54 games. Both those numbers are on pace to be his worst totals since his rookie season, and if the Canes are sellers at the deadline they'll likely try to move Staal and get some more pieces back in return.

Despite the poor season, Staal is just one point back from the team lead in scoring among forwards. Jeff Skinner (19g), Jordan Staal (12g), Victor Rask (12g), and Kris Versteeg (10g) all enter tonight tied with 31 points. It surely will be a priority for Carolina to try to add top talent at the forward position like they've managed to do at defense as they don't have much in the system when it comes to real, bonafide top line talent.

Injuries

Penguins: Evgeni Malkin (lower body), Eric Fehr (lower body), Nick Bonino (hand), Daniel Warsofsky (concussion), Beau Bennett (undisclosed)

Hurricanes: Justin Faulk (leg), James Wisniewski (ACL)

Notes
- The roadtrip against the Hurricanes and Florida Panthers will see the Penguins players' father join them for the weekend. The players will even room with their dads, and the most cited necessity for surviving the trip? Earplugs.

- Trevor Daley will be in the lineup tonight after missing the final two periods of Wednesday's 3-0 loss after awkwardly crashing into the net.

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